Walesa Urges EU to Save Gdansk Shipyard

The former leader of Poland's Solidarity movement denounces hardball enforcement of EU rules that could close the shipyard

Former leader of Poland's Solidarity trade union Lech Walesa has condemned an attempt by the EU to close most of the Gdansk shipyard.

"The European Union should help us to bring efficiency to the shipyard, and we should not lose it as part of some stupid political game," Walesa has said, according to the Times.

The Solidarity movement was founded by Mr Walesa and his colleagues at the shipyard in 1980 and it became a central force in communism's downfall in Eastern Europe.

But EU investigations launched in June 2005 have revealed that Polish shipyards have enjoyed state aid, illegal under EU law, worth at least €1.3 billion since Poland joined the EU in 2004.

Neelie Kroes, the EU's competition commissioner, recently accepted capacity cuts at Poland's Gdynia and Szczecin shipyards in return for past state aid but she said in July that the solution proposed for Gdansk was not acceptable.

Mrs Kroes gave the Polish government an ultimatum of submitting further information before 20 August or reimburse already given aid.

Pawel Poncyliusz, Poland's deputy minister of the economy responsible for shipyards, said in July to the Financial Times: "That would mean bankruptcy. The yard doesn't have the resources to pay that kind of money."

The confrontation with Brussels over the legendary shipyard comes at a highly heated political time for Poland.

Polish officials confirmed on Sunday (12 August) that the Polish government will hold elections this autumn, two years ahead of schedule, with 21 October mentioned as a likely date.

Over the weekend prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski informed Roman Giertych, the leader of the League of Polish Families that he is breaking up the current coalition and that ministers will be dismissed on Monday (13 August).

The other coalition partner Andrzej Lepper, the leader of Self-Defence, has been fired from his posts as deputy prime minister and minister of agriculture.

The opposition Civic Platform, which narrowly lost the 2005 election, said on Sunday that it is ready for the campaign.

The Civic Platform advocates better relations with Germany and the European Union.

The latest opinion polls suggest that the party, led by Donald Tusk, would win 33 percent of the vote while the ruling Law and Justice party, lead by the Kaczynski twins would receive about 23 percent.

In such a case, both parties would need a partner to form a new government.

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